EAST HELENA — Gov. Greg Gianforte has touted Montana’s registered apprenticeship program as a way to get more workers into the skilled trades. On Thursday, he toured a union apprenticeship training center in East Helena to get an idea of some of the work that’s being done there.
Gianforte visited with leaders from Ironworkers Local 732 at their Joint Apprenticeship Training Center. The union brings on about 30 new registered apprentices every year, and all of them spend time going through the center.
“These training programs to help bring up the next generation of workers are so critical,” Gianforte said. “You come in out of high school, start at $24 an hour, and, over a number of years, learn the skills for putting up buildings and building stuff – and starting wage $70,000 a year, and you do that without accumulating any debt.”
The three-year apprenticeship program combines work with contractors on a jobsite with classroom instruction and hands-on practice at the training center.
On Thursday, Gianforte tried his hand at tying rebar. The facility also provides apprentices a chance to learn welding, working with glass and climbing iron columns.
“The great thing is, is we're able to reach out to our folks who are more than just an auditory learner – getting those hands-on learners, the visual learners, to be able to put the skills that we're reading about and doing the classwork into a hands-on environment,” said Brian Rigby, Local 732’s president and apprenticeship-training coordinator.
The need for workers in the skilled trades is high in Montana. Gianforte said his administration has focused on getting more people into these industries, through steps like allowing contractors to take on more apprentices per trained worker and expanding tax credits for employers to support employees’ training.
“We've been working this workforce shortage in the construction trades from every angle,” said Gianforte.
Rigby says he believes the message about the value of trades is getting through – including to a younger generation.
“I think it's starting to get a lot louder,” he said. “We've got a lot more traction across the state with folks wanting to get the apprenticeships exposed into the schools – into the earlier schools. I've seen more in the past three years, having sixth through eighth grade coming into events to where they're getting exposed to the industry.”
“It’s impressive what you’re doing; keep it up,” Gianforte said as he wrapped up his tour.
Rigby says the union currently has 47 registered apprentices working in Montana and about another 20 in Idaho. He says they also open the training center to others, including high school students who want to learn welding and training programs from other trades.